The real estate market is so tight, but who knew San Francisco had tons of huge, vacant properties lying around?
When it came time to find a home for their brewery, homebrewer Michael Seitz — and his partners Lester Koga and Ben Sterling — eventually settled on a former granite-cutting factory on the eastern slope of Bernal Heights, just above Highway 101. But it took them 60 tries to find the right space, one that would replicate the vibe they liked at breweries in San Diego and in Boulder and Longmont, Colo.
"The hardest part," Seitz says, "is finding the right zoned building, because virtually all the breweries in San Francisco are not zoned for production. They can do a brewpub, but not produce unlimited amounts of beer."
Most people have to worry about whether a unit permits cats or has a washer-dryer hookup, but for Seitz and his co-founders, it was finding a landlord who "understood the vision." The building was in horrible shape, he says, and they poured in $600,000 just to bring it up to code. (Fellow homebrewers with dreams, be warned: Permit applications alone cost $30,000, and installing a reinforced, sloped brewery floor requires a lot of concrete.)
The result is Barebottle Brew Co., a facility that's as industrial as you might expect — with fermentation tanks only feet away from the tables and stools where patrons sip Scurvy Fighter American Pale Ale and California Cologne Kolsch-Style Ale — but which has hop-cone lighting fixtures that bring enough of a welcoming feel to draw Bernalites down from the bourgier blocks of Cortland Avenue.
It's a beer-focused operation, too. Food trucks like Upper Cut, MoBowl, and Red Sauce Meatballs station themselves outside Tuesdays through Sundays, but Barebottle doesn't have a kitchen of its own. (It augurs well that it shares a wall with a professional catering business, though.) Master Brewer Cortlandt Toczylowski hails from Drake's, and because the trifecta of cofounders began as homebrewers, Barebottle's focus is on sourcing hyper-local ingredients. They just released Espresso Macchiato Milk Stout — made with Paramo's cold-brew Stargazer Coffee — and a sour wheat beer derived from a sourdough wheat strain that's native to the Bay Area is coming soon.
While Laughing Monk Brewery in the Bayview solicited suggestions for its Belgian wheat beer, Barebottle has gone the next step: In cooperation with a local homebrew group, its principals put out a call for an IPA. They got 26 entries in all, which the San Francisco Homebrewers Guild helped whittle down to three, and visitors to the taproom can vote on which version of "Muir Woods IPA" they like best and send that formula into regular production. (Voting is open until they run out of beer, Seitz says. And a Belgian blond is next.)
There's room for it. While Barebottle's brews can already be found at places like Toronado, City Beer Store, and The Trappist, the taproom itself has 11 offerings (out of a projected 20, of which one will be a mead or otherwise gluten-free, honey-based beer). As with any new brewery, it's best to bring a beer buddy and order flights. Excluding the Muir Woods contenders, two flights of four will give you a solid idea of the breadth of Barebottle's offerings. They can be roughly divided into two categories: Milder, highly sessionable beers that would be great in Dolores Park (or Holly Park), and a clutch of beers with more pronounced flavor profiles. The Sparkling American Wheat, at only 4.4 percent ABV, could displace Pabst in the 30 pack of your dreams, while the two Boaty McBoatface Super Session IPAs diverge quite significantly from one another. Made with four types of hops — including the well-known mosaic — #1 is bright and citrusy, while #2, brewed with German Mandarina Bavaria and U.S. Equinox hops, is rounder and mellower. (If these distinctions sound like they'd have limited appeal outside the range of hardcore hopheads who pore over the differences among strains with Talmudic zeal, then I suggest you sip one and then the other and see for yourself.)
Barebottle's nod to an underappreciated, late-'90s sci-fi spoof, Galaxy Quest New England-Style IPA has a much higher alcohol content and a mango-forward tropical note that its cold-climate name seemingly belies, and my drinking mate described the Cashmere Sweater American IPA as "cuddly" before he even heard what it was called. Overall, my favorite was the straightforward, well-balanced Scurvy Fighter American Pale Ale. While I can't vouch for its Vitamin C content, the 5.9 percent ABV and 69 IBUs sit right in the sweet spot, and it has a beautiful golden color.
Although Barebottle isn't selling proper bottles just yet, you can get a growler embossed with "Ceci n'est pas un bouteille" ("This is not a bottle"). Taking your beer to go and hanging out at the long tables in front are equally viable options for a good afternoon. And if you want a brewery tour, just make your way to the handwritten sign. They're given at the top of the hour.
"That's how a brewery should be," Seitz says. "Not some stale, sanitary environment behind closed doors."